This Could Be The Last Time (I Don’t Know)

I kept reading about how certain bands (The Who and Rush in particular) might be finished playing live for awhile after their anniversary tours are over. My concert going funds are limited so this news added stress to a structure that wasn’t build up to code to begin with, so I have to come up with a plan. The Who do not play in my area (Cincinnati) for obvious reasons so I have to factor in travel expenses and Rush will likely play closer to home. I’ve seen The Who more recently on their Quadrophenia whole album experience and missed Rush on the Clockwork Angels tour. Rush has been rumored to be finished playing live since the first time I saw them over 20 years ago so it’s the boy who cried wolf situation. Neil Peart does have a young family however so as a man in a similar situation I could understand why he would want to stay off the road for awhile. The Who likely won’t tour again soon since they’ve gone out on two major tours in the past few years so I’m leaning toward them. I get nostalgic for the days when I could pick up and go to any show I wanted (within reason, I’ll never be able to afford The Stones!) and have to pick one or two a year. Brian Wilson is also on tour but that would mean a road trip to Nashville which is even more of a logistical problem and he can’t keep going forever either. My wife asked if I wanted to go to the Beach Boys/Temptations show that is playing nearby and I had to explain why without Brian Wilson there’s no reason to go (in my opinion). I explained it would be like going to see Destiny’s Child without Beyonce (most recent pop reference I could come up with on the fly). I also have to factor shows I’d never expected to see, The Replacements are touring this year for crying out loud. The whole last tour moniker seems to be just another marketing tool since retired acts keep coming back (Kiss, Garth, Kiss, Shania, Kiss)but age and health are always factors just ask AC/DC when they had to give retirement from live performance serious thought. But since there’s no feasible way for me to come up with extra cash/time/babysitting and I have to go with one, I’m thinking it’s gotta be The Who, right?

Elton Is Still Standing (Better Than He Ever Did)

I went to see Elton John on his recent “greatest hits” tour and watched a 68 year-old man play with a lot more energy and vigor than most teenagers display. His voice sounded just like it always had and he leaped up from his piano bench after every number to fire up the capacity crowd to receive much deserved applause. The crowd varied in age but still mostly older people attended who would remember Elton in the 70’s when his music was ubiquitous. I have never been much of a fan, I own Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Tumbleweed Connection and Greatest Hits Volume I, a thin collection which barely scratches the surface of Elton John’s output. When I became seriously interested in music, Elton was charting with songs like Nikita and I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That which failed to make much of an impression. In concert he skipped about a decade the period between and Sad Songs (Say So Much) in 1984 and picked things up again with Believe in 1995. He wisely stuck to his prime 70’s singles but opened with Funeral For A Friendd which was a dramatic and effective album cut that set the tone for a musical trip down memory lane. The highlight for my wife was during the encore when Elton John performed music from The Lion King which she felt the strongest connection to and I noticed a lot of younger fans perk up during that song too. The most recent song he performed in the set list came from his collaboration with Leon Russell Hey Ahab and nothing from Elton’s most recent work, The Diving Board (2013) made it into the show. It’s absence is another indicator of how the industry has changed. Elton John has more than enough back catalog to tour several times without repeating too much but as a music fan it still feels odd to me that an artist ignores his newest album. To be fair, no one in the audience knew or cared about the lack of new songs and Hey Ahab caused lines at the bathroom so Sir Elton knows the reality of the industry he once dominated. But as the video montage played behind him and showed his past mixed with his present it’s clear that Elton John has other concerns than who is buying his records. He is a father of two children at quite an advanced age I can tell you its hard enough at my age and I’m quite a bit younger than Elton. I felt like I was watching a man who is content with his life and place in the world and when he told the crowd he fed off of our energy I tended to believe him. I wish I could maintain that much energy and enthusiasm for two and half hours. Is it too late to take up the piano?

The Finished Line

Past their prime, washed up, not as good as they used to be. Their early stuff was influential but now they just keep turning out mediocre humdrum just so they can make money or have an excuse to do another tour. They should have broken up after (fill in the blank). I’m talking about virtually every band and the perception that only their past greatness matters, the new stuff just doesn’t compare. One of the reasons I enjoy what bloggers write is their passion for particular artists never wanes. These writers see the value of the whole body of work from the initial groundbreaking albums to the most recent reinvention or comeback work. I personally can see both sides of the equation, especially when 2014 marked the first time that back catalog material out sold new albums. I also believe that no matter how good a classic rock artist’s newest release is, it just doesn’t sound right. Technology has cleaned up the dirty parts of rock which is a big problem but I don’t take it out on the artists. The example I always think of is when people ask me why I go out of my way to see Brian Wilson in concert and bypass The Beach Boys when they play in my own backyard. It’s simple Brian keeps putting out new material and keeps making enjoyable music, Mike Love and friends are an oldies band. Brian is in his 70’s and clearly he has more to say, so does Paul McCartney, Neil Young and many others who are still out their touring with their hits but mixing in newer material. It has to be frustrating since even these artists who have more influence in the world of rock and roll than anyone watch fans run for the bathroom during new songs so they can be back for another Beatles/Beach Boys. etc. classic. Despite the frustration with albums sales and touring these artists still yearn to say something, It can’t be the money or legacy building at this point, those things are secure as can be in this day and age. The only motivation has to be the desire to put out good music since the market for the material gets smaller with each passing year. Age also is a factor since a man in his 70’s is not the same has he was in his 20’s-30’s so songs about sexual conquests are going to be more creepy than cool. Using Brian as an example again he could talk about catching a wave or California Girls as a young man but as an older man he could talk about the loss of his brothers. If anything his more recent music would be more authentic because he lost two brothers, he never was a surfer. When the sun does set on these legends I hope people will remember their “lesser” moments as much as the material that is ubiquitous in our society because even if the whole record doesn’t feel as solid there are always special gems that make the albums worthwhile. Even if the general public continues to ignore the past few decades at least I can rely on bloggers who are keeping the fire going by expressing their passion for an art that might be on its last legs. To quote Sir Paul from That Was Me (2007) “That was me sewatin’ cobwebs in a cellar on TV yeah that was me. The same me that stand here now. When I think that all this stuff can make a life that’s pretty, hard to take it in, that was me. That was me yeah, that was me.

A Different Kind of Live

VH Live

Van Halen is finally releasing an official live album with David Lee Roth. For other bands this wouldn’t make any sense at all but for VH it fits right in with their history of incredible highs and lows. I’m not sure if any other band (maybe Sabbath or Deep Purple) has had such a bizarre story line of Mammoth success with two strong lead singers, saw both walk away and start other successful projects and eventually come back to lead again. DLR and Sammy even toured together despite both admitting they wanted nothing to do with the other. Oh and Michael Anthony was let go to be replaced by the son of the guitarist. There’s creative tension and then there’s Van Halen. My first reaction to the release was indifference because I saw the A Different Kind of Truth/Reunion tour in Cleveland which was I think the fourth or fifth show and they were good but not great. I swear they played Hot for Teacher and the wrong tempo but maybe it was the lousy acoustics! Once you got past the excitement of the reunion the reality was they probably could have used a little more time to mesh and really fire up the rock. Then I looked at the official track listing and I admit I will seek out the disc when it hits the stores 3/31/2015. Any concert that starts with Unchained and ends with Jump and is loaded with killer tracks in between will get me to open up my wallet. It would have been nice to have their original bassist since he added so much energy to the band and their live presence but as goes the VH history so goes the missing piece that would make such a show complete. I remember buying tickets for that tour and wondering if the band would still be together by the fourth or fifth show. The track order places 3 songs from Truth in the first 10 songs which I’m not crazy about since that album still hasn’t grown on me. I hope in this context I’ll enjoy those songs more and maybe with a little distance they will mix well with their classic tunes. I felt like Unchained was one of those highlights as well as Runnin’ With The Devil which happen to be the first two cuts on this album. I will keep my fingers crossed that the Tokyo Dome show will be enjoyable and actually make it to the stores, with this band you just never know.

Strum and Dang It!

guitar

Ruth Gordon declares in Harold & Maude “everybody should be able to make some music, that’s the cosmic dance.” My dancing shoes have failed miserably since the fourth grade, when I took up the violin and began my lifelong agony of trying to play a simple tune. I’ve also tried piano with poor results and now I’m trying to learn to strum a guitar. I don’t know if I’m following the mantra, “if at first you don’t succeed” or if I’m just a glutton for punishment but I’m still trying to get on the universal dance floor. My wife is also learning the guitar and in the course of a couple of hours during the first time she has ever picked up the instrument, she learned to play chords G, C and D and she could switch from G to C. In the same amount of time I have learned to strangle to life out of the G and C chords and managed to loose a guitar pick inside the belly of the acoustic beast. My wife played the flute in her high school band so her arching technique is already well developed so she can grip the strings on the correct frets without sounding flat or off key. My musical training has only heightened my aggravation and I’m considering doing an impressive Pete Townshend impression by smashing the guitar into a million pieces, at least I’ll have one rock and roll moment. My kids love the sound of the guitar (when it’s played right) and they enjoy plucking the strings. They are my inspiration to keep plugging along and to remember that learning an instrument should be fun. I’ve also kept in mind the wisdom of Tom Waits who said (more or less) people can love music but it might not love them back and I’ve always felt like I’m in the unrequited group. I was just tickled I was able to properly tune the thing using a free app that pinpoints where each string needs to be set. I take my hat off to people who can tune by ear or with a pitch pipe. I tried using the pipe and I ended up with a guitar that sounded like a kazoo. So despite the fact that I have a tin ear, poor dexterity and little patience I still plan to continue learning the guitar, even if I look like an arthritic donkey while trying to play it. As Maude (Ruth Gordon) stated, “everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves, you can’t let the world judge you too much.” Harold learned to strum a banjo by the end of the movie, if this guitar thing doesn’t work out maybe I can start pickin’ and a grinnin’ on the ole’ banjo. If all else fails, there’s always kazoo lessons , I suppose.

Taking My Relics on the Road.

cds

2010 was the final model year for any car in the U.S. to have a factory equipped cassette player. Cassettes were replaced by compact discs and the format became dominant in the 1980’s with its peak in number of discs manufactured in 1988 (400 million according to Wikipedia). Now the CD format is facing the same problem as cassettes did with auto manufacturers such as Hyundai opting for blue tooth driven interfaces that can be synced with Apple and Android phones. Bad news for people like me who own thousands of antiques, I mean CDs, and like to play them in their jalopies. I and others will either stick with older model cars or be forced to use the auxiliary input to plug in a portable CD player and pretend like it’s 1988. CDs were oriented to car stereos which was a problem for some listeners who didn’t like all the music being mixed as loudly as possible to overcome traffic and other noise. So if auto makers all remove the CD from the car stereo then disc manufacturers may pull the plug since sales would certainly take another tumble. Nielsen SoundScan numbers indicate that CD sales of albums had a 67.6% share of the market in 2011. In 2014 the share dropped to 48.3%, so the trend is already pointing toward the end of the CD era. A lot of people believe the format will survive much like vinyl has even when the major manufacturers quit producing them. I am not opposed to having a vehicle that accesses downloadable or streaming content I just don’t want to lose the option to play a format I have invested heavily in and I don’t want to give up the tactile sensation of spinning a disc. When I show my kids a CD or record they are curious about what it has embedded in it and they get excited to hear music. They are interested in playing music because they can make the connection between holding an instrument and producing the sound as opposed to watching a screen and hearing music come out of nowhere. So a total changeover to streaming/downloadable content concerns me, a lot of joy could be lost for the sake of convenience. Plus what am I going to do with thousands of unplayable discs, I don’t need nearly that many drink coasters. I’m not totally distraught, since I wasn’t aware factory equipped cassettes players held out as long as they did but the writing is on the wall. I don’t see how you can pull out a dashboard interface to install a CD stereo, it just doesn’t make sense. So I’ll have to be the guy who buys portable CD players from the internet to plug into an auxiliary jack on my interface panel so I can get around blue tooth technology just to listen to Thin Lizzy albums without commercial interruptions. I can live with that.

Made In California

Made in California

In 1985 The Beach Boys released a self-titled album with the single Getcha Back. I liked the song but I felt like it was out of touch with everything outside of adult contemporary radio. In my town, country and elevator music were the only commercially viable formats so Getcha Back almost sounded dangerous compared to a lot of the music I was exposed to. Kokomo became a number 1 hit a few years later and I tried to pretend the song didn’t exist. I didn’t mind the tune, but it became an ubiquitous ear worm and I had to destroy it before it destroyed my sanity. The Beach Boys were an enigma for many years since they were such a successful and influential band but other than the surfing singles and the two aforementioned songs I never considered them a rock band, so I ignored them. I tried to listen to Pet Sounds every time the album listed in the top 10 greatest pile somewhere but I just didn’t get it. Once again time and maturity opened my ears to what the Wilson family was doing both with Brian’s unusual compositions and the perfectly blended harmonies. The magic became clear to me on songs like Wouldn’t It Be Nice, The Warmth of the Sun and Catch A Wave. Pet Sounds, Smiley Smile, Today!, Sunflower, 20/20 & Surf’s Up all became essential records. The Boys other albums were frustrating but gems were on all of them such as Little Bird or The Trader which I think is one of their best and Brian isn’t even one of the writers. All three of the brothers had gifts, Brian stood out and deserved to but Dennis and Carl evolved into compelling musicians and songwriters after their big brother withdrew from reality for awhile. I have seen Brian Wilson 3 times as a solo act in three parts of the country and once with the Beach Boys on their 50th anniversary tour, so Brian is important to me, a personal hero. So when a collection like Made In California is released I always hope it is a good representation of his work and isn’t just a cash grab. The 50th anniversary generated a lot of products and Made in California is one of the bigger ticket items. I have listened to the whole set several times and I love it but I can’t decide if the value is in the package for just serious fans or could the set be great for someone who wants more than just the hits. I think the real value in Made in California is hidden like a lot of the music included on the set that most people have not heard before. My hope is that someday I can hand this to my son or daughter because they heard a great song by this band called The Beach Boys and they ask me if I have any of their music. I just might kids, I just might.